Football: Francis suffers injury blues

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TREVOR FRANCIS, the Birmingham manager, fears that it will be February before his most talented players return to boost his side's campaign for promotion to the Premiership.

Francis is forecasting a long, hard winter for his side as they try to keep in touch with the First Division pace-setters. They were without 11 injured players, plus the ineligible Christopher Wreh, against West Ham in the Worthington Cup on Tuesday but they still came within three minutes of victory before succumbing 3-2 to a last-minute Joe Cole goal.

Now Francis is looking for his team to show the same fight they displayed on Tuesday in their forthcoming First Division fixtures as they look to return to the top flight for the first time since 1986.

"We've got 31 points from 20 games, which is one less than last year, so despite all the problems we've had I'm quite pleased with the way we've hung in there," he explained.

"I think we'll have to fight on with this commitment for another two months, I guess, because some of these players have long-term injuries. If, with 12 or 13 matches still remaining, we're still in this position we're in now I'll be quite pleased and it'll give us the chance to have a right go in the last few games.

"But at the moment we've got no end of problems with injuries. I don't think there's going to be any improvement for Saturday's game with Fulham.

"I feel at the moment we're in a holding position. Seven attackers are missing but we'll keep going and see where we go. The supporters have been understanding of the predicament we're in and that's pleasing."

Birmingham suffered three further blows on Tuesday, with Graham Hyde forced off at half-time after picking up a leg injury. Stan Lazaridis had an exploratory operation on his knee cancelled for fear of infection in a cut on his leg, while Dele Adebola will be out for up to eight weeks because he picked up a hairline leg fracture as well as a torn calf muscle against Swindon last Saturday.